The Tuolumne County Library has been the focus of controversy lately, as a since-removed political display in the entryway triggered a partisan dustup.
But turn the corner and there’s something all political parties can agree on: the refurbished children’s library, spectacularly highlighted by artist Tracy Knopf’s wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor mural.
Almost as amazing as Knopf’s breathtaking panorama is that the work didn’t cost county taxpayers a cent. Instead it was the result of a more-than-two-year community service project by the Sonora Sunrise Rotary Club.
Rotarians — led by past presidents Jim Cherry and Robin Phillips — weren’t the only ones who pitched in: dozens of supporters participated in two major fundraising dinners; the children’s library staff was involved in planning from the outset; and volunteers and local businesses contributed their time, energy and donations.
Seeds for the ambitious job were planted in 2008, when club members visited the library to take a look at a $7,000 microfilm reader they had donated sometime earlier. But what the Rotarians noticed was not the reader, but the children’s library.
It was dull, worn-out looking, even drab. “It looked like it needed a hug,” said one member, and an idea was born:
Why not brighten the place up with an outdoorsy mural that reflected the library’s theme, “From pastures to pines”?
The canvas was ready: An 80-foot-long wall that at its apex reached 16 feet. Altogether it spread over 1,100 square feet, the size of a small house. It begged for color and imagination.
Both were furnished by Tracy Knopf, a housepainter-turned-muralist who seemed tuned into what both the Rotarians and the librarians had in mind.
Her mural runs from daybreak in the foothills to moonlight in the High Sierra, and from the skies above towering peaks to the depths of a mountain stream. And its cast, dozens of species ranging from butterflies, beetles and crawdads to ospreys, otters and mountain lions.
Not only that, but Knopf has reprised the species on her mural on a line of trim running completely around the children’s library.
Is it popular? Kids have been fascinated since Knopf brightened the library wall with her first brush strokes. Now dozens of kids catalog mammals, birds and fish and match them with duplicates in the trim line.
And adults? It’s tough to keep them out of the children’s library, and the new carpeting and furniture installed below that stunning mural is an attractive addition as well.
None of this came cheap. Sunrise Rotary President Bob Hoyt said costs topped $40,000 for the project, “the most ambitious we’ve undertaken.”
A key to the success was two successful “Celebrity Waiter” dinners held at the Black Oak Casino’s Seven Sisters restaurant.
According to Rotarian Gregory Oliver, who coordinated the dinners, they combined the efforts of guest chefs, nearly 50 waiters and close to 300 dinner patrons. Seven Sisters restaurant and their vendors donated food, wine, staff expertise and a great venue. Together these tasty community feasts raised more than $45,000.
The children’s library project provides a lesson in what can be accomplished by volunteers with foresight, cooperation and a worthy goal supported by all involved. That this fundraising effort - and completed project - was done amid the worst recession in generations is also a testament to the generosity of individuals and local businesses in our community.
Weekly Arts and entertainment guide for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties